End-users have technologies that serve their purpose – now they want assistance on how best to use them, says Jon Collins
The current information technology landscape looks very different to that of just a couple of years ago. At that point, IT companies were still reeling from the downward spiral of the dotcom bust, and end-user businesses were doing very little - the clamours of "return of investment" and "time to value" from the supplier community were a thinly veiled cry for help, their attempt to define a business case by marketing alone.
Few end-user organisations listened, using the time instead to decide exactly what they wanted to do with their infrastructures, and indeed where to spend their money.
What we can see today are the fruits of such considerations. The major area of infrastructureinvestment, across Europe and elsewhere, is server and storage consolidation: companies arereducing the numbers of datacentres they operate, and are centralising their "basic" applicationdeployments, file and print,e-mail, and so on.
Companies are looking to build on these facilities to enable better employee collaboration and their ability to report to regulators, but the main activity is to simplify, to rationalise, to make more efficient and effective the basic platforms upon which they depend. Rather than following trends, end-users are creating them.
To be fair to the suppliers and their apologists, there have been various three-letter attempts to characterise these developments, not all of which have survived.
In the software world, we have such constructs as business service management (BSM) and service oriented architectures (SOA); others have largely fallen by the wayside. We also have information lifecycle management (ILM), forged on the anvil of hierarchical storage management (HSM), while recognising that to be successful, storage resources need somehow to be guided by how their users intend to exploit the information they protect.
Let us be in no doubt, however: ILM is not primarily a supplier-led initiative; if it were, it would likely have failed by now. Rather, it is a term used to describe what is happening at a large number of end-user companies, particularly the larger organisations, as aresult of their ongoing drives to better IT and storage efficiency.
Where are we up to in this reversal of roles? Companies are progressing through the consolidation phase and are looking to software to help them manage, protect and make provision for the resulting consolidated hardware resources.
Storage virtualisation, for example, a few years ago a bandwagon which then fell out of favour, is now being perceived by IT directors and senior managers as a necessary element of their IT architectures.
In doing so, such companies are putting in place a flexible storage pool that can be allocated according to need - a necessary foundation for ILM.
This is not the end of the story, however. Comprehensive ILM requires a variety of other information management tools - content management, storage resource management, archiving, application and database optimisation, and so on - all working as a harmonious whole.
Even then, tools alone cannot achieve this goal. An ILM strategy must ultimately be driven by business requirements, so the business - and in many cases, we are told, this means the board - needs to be motivated enough to push it through. Some businesses get this, but many do not.
Second, tools serve only to automate policy - if this is poorly defined or implemented, the tools will only serve to automate the failings. There are some powerful tools for compliance reporting, for example, but a compliant service is not necessarily an effective service.
Although they may have seized the initiative, end-user organisations still need help in terms of products and services that will help them achieve their goals. Bandwagoneering suppliers are focusing their efforts on shouting "ILM!" louder than the competition, attempting to differentiate their crossing-the-chasm marketing rather than marketing any real differentiators.
Here is the news: the chasm has already been crossed. Most end-users already have a collection of technologies that serve most of their purposes, and are now looking for help in how best to use them. The single most important challenge for delegates is to identify the more savvy suppliers, for whom the test is simple: they will be listening more than they speak. Look out for them, and use them wisely.
Jon Collins, principal analyst, infrastructure and management, at Quocirca, is presenting a keynote address at Storage Expo